Launching a series of classics, curios and forgotten gems on 16mm, Lost Reels presents Monsters Attack! a double bill of sci-fi/horror monster features. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms is a bone fide classic, responsible for a whole 1950s sub-genre of radiation-magnified monsters and malevolent aliens from outer space. It continues to engage audiences with its swift pace, economic run-time, and the frequent appearances of Ray Harryhausen’s brilliant stop-motion monster. In comparison, Empire of the Ants is best remembered as a testament to genre resilience. In the mid-70s all writer/director Bert I. Gordon needed was a Florida swamp, a group of soap opera actors, and a reworking of Them! (1954) to deliver a commercially successful monster feature. Frequently laughable the film has an undeniable camp value, and the sight of Joan Collins valiantly staying in character while being dumped into a muddy river and squaring off against poorly superimposed ants is unmissable.
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), directed by Eugène Lourié, visual effects by Ray Harryhausen. B&W. Cert PG. 80 minutes.
Having served his apprenticeship as King Kong (1933) animator, Willis O’Brien’s assistant on Mighty Joe Young (1949), Ray Harryhausen’s first solo effort was The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, produced by Warner Brothers and based on a short story by his friend science fiction writer Ray Bradbury. The film was a huge success and is largely responsible for a whole sub-genre of monster-on-the-loose films. The role of military authority figures, and the trope of the aging scientist and his brainy attractive daughter were replicated in Them! the following year and many other 1950s sci-fi/horror films including Harryhausen’s follow-up, It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955). What makes Beast most remarkable is the creature itself and how Harryhausen imbues it with a real personality, even pathos. Scenes such as the lighthouse attack are beautifully conceived and staged, and the New York City rampage and amusement park climax are high water marks for the stop motion technique even today. Among the capable and pleasant B-movie cast keep an eye out for a young Lee Van Cleef in a small role as a police marksman during the fiery rollercoaster climax.
16mm print courtesy of Lost Reels
Empire of the Ants (1977), directed by Bert I. Gordon. Colour. Cert 15. 89 minutes.
H.G. Wells wrote a story called Empire of the Ants but it bears little resemblance to this tale of a devious estate agent (Joan Collins) trying to sell dodgy condos to an unsuspecting tour group prior to an attack by giant ants. Starting with a classic disaster movie set up (unlikeable characters assemble so the audience can decide who to root for when the killings begin) it becomes a prototype for Jurassic Park (1993) when the condo tour goes horribly wrong. As the ants attack to faux-Jaws (1975) music and Them! sound effects, scenes include an elderly couple leaving the relative safety of the group for a flimsy outdoor cabin, “We’ll be safe in there” they say (guess what happens), and as marauding ants close off escape routes for another group, one of them screams, “They’re herding us like CATTLE!” The hilariously inept special effects only add to the film’s appeal (they actually look better in 16mm than higher definition formats) and the cast heroically play it straight even when ‘fighting’ thin air overlayed with badly superimposed ant footage or unconvincing ant puppets. A ludicrous third act twist reinvigorates the film just as it threatens to drag, cementing the film’s status as an accidental cult classic. The final scene featuring the beleaguered survivors is priceless.
16mm print courtesy of Lost Reels. This vintage print has intermittent scratches and lines during the first 40 minutes.
To celebrate this inaugural Lost Reels event all ticket holders will be entered into a free raffle for an original vintage UK quad poster of Empire of the Ants by legendary poster artist Brian Bysouth